Thursday, December 22, 2005

Gather Round - no, wait, we mean Merry Christmas. Really, we do. It's true, we always meant it, we swear!

In a previous life I was a low-level executive for Target Stores. It's an interesting place to work and has a lively, youthful vibe, although at times working at Target HQ felt like the movie "Logan's Run" -- that is, a paradise until you reach the age of 30, at which time you are put to death. Target has experienced tremendous growth in recent years by finding, clever, creative ways of differentiating itself from the evil, hated juggernaut of Bentonville, Arkansas. By doing so, Target has largely managed to avoid being the subject of left-wing documentaries, frustrated labor-union front organizations and other sentinels of good and proper thought. After all, even the most p.c. individual wants to save a few dimes on his garbage bags and light bulbs. By also stocking a few clever knock-off frocks and quasi-IKEA pieces, along with conducting some ostentatious acts of local charity (all performed by red-clad Target employees, endorsed by Amy Grant and Tiger Woods), Target largely had sailed along above the fray, quietly collecting their profits while Wal-Mart struggled through adverse publicity and sluggish growth.

But things have changed lately. Last year Target made an understandable, logical and completely tone-deaf decision when they forced the Salvation Army from their stores. Target's ostensible rationale was that it did not allow anyone to solicit its "guests" (customers) in its stores, so the Salvation Army, which had been placing its kettles and bellringers outside Target locations since the very beginning of the chain in 1962, was asked not to return for the holidays. As you might imagine, the decision generated a fair amount of negative publicity, including some half-hearted calls for customer boycotts from some radio talk show hosts. Target largely weathered this particular controversy, but the adverse press got the attention of the executives. Target this year has staged a low-profile fundraising campaign in conjunction with the Salvation Army, but the bellringers remain off the premises. The Salvation Army then demonstrated its lack of hard feelings by participating in a joint advertising campaign with Wal-Mart, featuring Antonio Banderas. I'm guessing that didn't go over too well up in the executive suites.

This year, a somewhat related controversy arose when some unusually noisy Christians started noticing that the major retailers, Target included, had largely airbrushed all references to Christmas from their marketing campaigns. Target's television campaign featured the slogan "Gather Round," which could conceivably apply to Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or a previously scheduled meeting of Odd Fellows Local 246. So I was amused when I saw revised versions of television commercials that clearly showed a tacked on "Merry Christmas" message at the end, as the strains of the reworked Earth Wind & Fire song "September" fades out. Glad to see that Michael Francis and the gang in advertising have learned something.

Keep your enemies closer

Victor Davis Hanson is one of the more interesting writers around. He has a characteristically good piece in the Honolulu Advertiser today at

Had you thought of Wesley Clark, Richard Clarke and John Murtha in the same context? Hanson has. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Do you remember your President Carter?

I know, you'd rather not, but those who would argue that the current flap over Bush's non-NSA approved wiretapping need to understand how easy it is to refute their argument. What Bush is doing is hardly without precedent.

Carter in 1979 issued the following executive order:

There are similar executive orders that Clinton issued as well. There is also an open question whether FISA really applies in this instance; it’s very much a separation of powers issue; can Congress pass a law that enjoins the executive from doing what is his primary responsibility, that is, to protect and defend the nation? The Supreme Court had a chance to rule on this issue back in 2002 and refused to even hear the case. The actual case is here:

This is 56 pages long, so you probably won’t want to wade through it. But the point was, if the Court was inclined to stop the practice, they could have done so, but didn’t. So I am simply suggesting that this is all about nothing.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

Evan Thomas of Newsweek managed to get amazing mileage out of his "Bush is in a bubble" trope. Voices ranging from the snarky (and overrated) Maureen Dowd through our favorite Reagan-era economic adviser Bruce Bartlett have endorsed Thomas's breakthrough insight.

I'd like to suggest that there's something else at work here. I think Bush does have a bit of a bubble around him, but it's not quite what's been suggested this week. What Thomas, Dowd, Bartlett and others really object to is this -- Bush isn't listening to what they have to say. If you are a star reporter, or exalted columnist, or even a highly credentialed economist, you typically expect a certain amount of fealty to your opinions. This president couldn't care less what they think. And if you expect fealty, that's especially infuriating.

As it happens, I think Bruce Bartlett is largely correct about George W. Bush's profligate spending habits. But I don't think he is entitled to having his notions enacted every time a Republican occupies the Oval Office. As for Dowd and Thomas, their views are widely known, essentially static and easily discounted.

We all live in bubbles; our views are a product of our upbringing, education and habitat. One of the most conspicuous bubbles is the Boswash Bubble, an especially durable membrane stretched over the major population centers of the East Coast. For many inside the bubble, life is easy and assumptions are pretty much locked in place about the proper role of government, the morality of certain behaviors, protean ethical standards and the hopeless provincialism of those outside the bubble. Bush in this context is an outsider, an axiomatic moron.

Do I stereotype the views of these Boswash Bubble denizens? Oh yes. But no more than Thomas and Dowd.

God Save the Queens

The "Love Boat" saga involving various members of the Minnnesota Vikings once again hit the headlines yesterday, as local authorities charged four prominent Minnesota Vikings with "lewd and lascivious conduct," among other things. We were regaled with tales of Bryant McKinnie's predelictions, Fred Smoot's fondness for implements and other unnecessary details, brought forth with clinical precision by local authorities. Aren't we all happy to know all this?

As a Packer fan living in Minnesota, I'm conflicted. Yes, untoward behavior should be discouraged. Yes, the Vikings have a long, sordid history of drunk driving, Whizzinating and other less than hygenic pursuits. Yes, it's amusing to see the Purple Helmeted Love Warriors spend a few weeks in the stocks. But it's not clear that sewing a scarlet "V" (either for "Viking" or "Vulgarian") on the uniforms of these players really accomplishes much. Here's one vote for hoping that this story goes away quickly - I'd rather not explain marital aids to my 10-year old son until a time of my own choosing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Samkon Gado's Razor, or Shave This

One issue with the blogosphere is that, while you want your friends to provide their input, sometimes they actually take you up on it. One of my initial posts generated two comments regarding the current status of my beloved Green Bay Packers. To wit, two people indicated that they suck.

Given their 3-10 record, I'm not in a strong position to argue the point. But since I hadn't even mentioned the Packers in any previous posts, I'm not entirely sure what brought that on.

In any event, I think we can posit a theory about all this. You may have heard of Occam's Razor, which states (generally) that the simplest explanation is the best explanation. I would propose a corollary to this rule; we'll call it Samkon Gado's Razor, after the Packers's newest running sensation. The corollary goes like this:

If an inane and off-topic taunt is posted on a blog, it was likely the product of a Vikings fan.

QED, y'all.

Do you remember your President Nixon?

Bruce Bartlett does and because the current resident of the White House has been behaving in a similar fashion, he's written a book that my fellow bloggers are awaiting with bated breath. Here's a plug for you:

Bruce Bartlett’s new book is Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (New York: Doubleday). It will be published on February 28, but is now available for preorder at

If you don't know who Mr. Bartlett is, he was a key member of the economic team that advised President Reagan. He is also a regular commentator for any number of publications, including the Wall Street Journal. In other words, he's a smart man. So you should pay heed, okay?

Hat tip: Umlaut Free ( )

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You want manifestoes? Sure, we have manifestoes. First of a series

There's a scene in Bull Durham where the Kevin Costner character prattles on at great length about what he believes. Since the movie was filmed in 1987, he couldn't blog and instead had to talk to Susan Sarandon. Oddly enough, Ms. Sarandon hasn't been returning my calls, so I thought I'd share some random thoughts in my very own blog.

  1. You can be a Great American hero and still be a moron. Charles Lindbergh, meet John Murtha.
  2. Who has been more influential - John Rawls or Hugh Hefner? You could make a good case that Lou Rawls is more influential than John Rawls.
  3. I don't really want to talk to Susan Sarandon.
  4. Lee Harvey Oswald did act alone.
  5. If you haven't seen the following blog, you're missing out on some really quality blogging, darn it!

There's more to come. Oh my yes. Much more to come.

And so we begin

Welcome to Mr. Dilettante, your one-stop shop for wide-ranging nonsense, moderately informed rantings and whatever I think is worth bringing to your attention. Blogging is like dropping a penny in a well; you listen for a splash and sometimes you don't hear one. But we'll do what we can to give you a worthwhile splash or two.